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Hiring New Officer To Monitor CMS Compliance Likely To Take Months

CMS board members Carol Sawyer, Lenora Shipp and Sean Strain (l-r) make notes at Tuesday's retreat.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board agreed in November to create a position for a new, independent officer to monitor the superintendent and other top staff. But after almost three hours of discussion Tuesday  the board isn’t much closer to hiring that person. 

The new compliance officer will report directly to the board and have broad power to review whether top district officials are following federal, state and local rules. The vote to create that job came fresh off the forced resignation of Superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

Wilcox and the board agreed not to speak publicly about what went wrong, but news media have documented questions about how Wilcox made purchases and treated his staff.

On Tuesday, the board spent almost three hours at a daylong retreat talking with the chief compliance officer for Atrium Health. Chair Elyse Dashew says it was time well spent.

"This is kind of cutting edge for a school district to create a department like this, but they’ve been doing it for years," she said.

The board hasn't spelled out costs or said how many people will work for the new  Office of Compliance and Transparency. Almost three months after the vote, the board still hasn’t created a job description or launched a search. It has tagged four board members -- Dashew, Sean Strain, Ruby Jones and Rhonda Cheek -- to get that process started.

"So I should hope that we’ll have a compliance officer hired within a few months, but that’s not a firm timeline," Dashew said after Tuesday's retreat. 

Dashew says the new office will help head off problems and create more transparency. When asked how it’s related to the departure of two superintendents who have been forced out in the past five years, Dashew answered obliquely.

"There are definitely some lessons learned from expensive challenges that have come up because of lack of compliance, and no simple way for the board to learn when compliance issues arise," she said.

CMS board members and staff say they’ll be among only a handful of districts nationwide to create an oversight office with such sweeping powers.

The board met from 9 a.m. to almost 5 p.m. at Cordelia Park in Charlotte's Villa Heights neighborhood. Most of that time was spent talking about their communication styles and doing team-building exercises. For instance, they did the "marshmallow challenge," working in groups to build structures with such supplies as marshmallows, pipe cleaners and uncooked spaghetti.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.